New York To Give Driver’s Licenses To Illegal Aliens

Governor Spitzer and the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Commissioner David Swarts yesterday announced a DMV policy change that will allow all New Yorkers the opportunity to apply for state driver licenses without regard to their immigration status. In addition, the Governor and Commissioner also announced plans to implement a new regime of anti-fraud measures to increase the security of the licensing system as this new population of drivers come into the system.

The DMV estimates that tens of thousands of undocumented, unlicensed and uninsured drivers are currently on New York’s roads, contributing to increased accidents and hit-and-runs as well as higher auto insurance rates. The implementation of the policy change will take place in two phases:

Phase 1 will begin immediately. Informational letters from DMV will be sent to the approximately 152,000 New Yorkers, who at one point had (or currently have) a New York State license, but are unable to renew it because of the previous administrative policy. DMV will notify these former and current license holders of the policy change and will begin the re-licensing process at the end of 2007. Those affected will still need to prove their identity, date of birth and fitness to drive before being issued a new license.

Phase 2 will begin six to eight months after Phase 1 and will open the application process to all New Yorkers.

Current State law requires license applicants to prove their identity, date of birth and fitness to drive, and to provide a social security number (SSN). The SSN requirement was added in 1995 as part of an effort to punish parents who were not paying child support. In 2002, a state regulation was adopted to allow applicants who are ineligible for a SSN to also apply for driver licenses. Following this step, the DMV then issued an administrative policy that effectively made it impossible for illegal immigrants to obtain driver licenses by stipulating that the only way to define “ineligibility” would be through obtaining a formal letter of ineligibility from the Social Security Administration, a letter that is only obtainable by individuals who have legal immigration status.

It is this last administrative policy that the DMV is changing. Starting in the phases discussed above, license applicants will check a box on the license application that states that the applicant is not eligible to receive a social security number. Instead of presenting a SSN or a letter of ineligibility, individuals instead will provide a current foreign passport and other valid and verifiable documents to prove identity.

In his Press Release the Governor called the new policy a “common sense change” that deals with a “practical reality that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants live among us.” The Governor went on to say:

After a comprehensive review, DMV has developed changes that will increase the security of our license system by obtaining better and more verifiable information from applicants, which will decrease the number of uninsured drivers on the roads, lower auto insurance rates for all drivers and, when necessary help law enforcement agencies in their investigations.

According to the Press Release, the benefits of this policy change will include:

  • Safer Streets: In its report, “Unlicensed to Kill,” the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that unlicensed drivers are almost five times more likely to be in a fatal crash than are validly licensed drivers.
  • Lower Insurance Rates: The State Department of Insurance estimates that expanded license access will reduce the premium costs associated with uninsured motorist coverage by 34% which will save New York drivers $120 million each year. Other states with similar policies have seen their auto insurance rates drop as well.
  • Safer Homeland: This policy change helps bolster homeland security by bringing more individuals into the system and, when necessary, assisting law enforcement efforts to locate those who present a real security threat.

As mentioned, the DMV will also adopt new anti-fraud measures to make the system more secure. It will utilize new state-of-the-art document verification technology, including photograph comparison tools and specially-trained staff with expertise in foreign-sourced identity documents, and a proposal to implement a residency requirement for all state license holders.

  • The DMV’s secure “6-point ID requirement” will be based on an expanded list of valid and verifiable documents. Along with the other identity documents currently on the list, individuals’ identities will be verified using this new document verification technology to reduce the potential for fraud.
  • The DMV has begun a pilot program to test photo comparison technology, which will prevent a person from obtaining more than one license under more than one name. Currently, 18 states use photo comparison technology as part of their fraud-protection system.
  • The DMV will also train personnel in verifying foreign-sourced identity documents.
  • Finally, as a further fraud-prevention measure, the DMV will propose to require a license applicant prove his or her New York State residency in order to be eligible for a state-issued license. Currently, 27 states have such residency requirements.

I have three questions or points about this change:

  1. If auto insurance rates for New Yorkers do not fall appreciably, how likely is it that the DMV will revert back to the old policy?
  2. How much confidence will you have in the personnel that the DMV will train in verifying foreign-sourced identity documents, and will there be enough trained personnel?
  3. If illegal aliens will have valid driver’s licenses, will you be able to use your New York driver’s license as a form of ID for other purposes?

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